Much of Robert Browning's "Rabbi Ben Ezra" speaks to the metaphor that represents God as a potter and mankind, a creation of God, as the potter's clay. Throughout the poem, this metaphor suggests that God is not only responsible for the creation of our physical selves as human beings but also for the ultimate determination of what is right and wrong.

Now, who shall arbitrate?
Ten men love what I hate,
Shun what I follow, slight what I receive;
Ten, who in ears and eyes
Match me: we all surmise,
They this thing, and I that: whom shall my soul believe?

Not on the vulgar mass
Called "work," must sentence pass,
Things done, that took the eye and had the price;
O'er which, from level stand,
The low world laid its hand,
Found straightway to its mind, could value in a trice:

Morality, a sense of right and wrong, cannot truly exist. Who is to deem anything acceptable or not when every individual's idea of what is, or should be, considered tolerable, differs drastically? Morality is largely a contrived notion of society. In order to feel like something good has been achieved, one must know how to measure when, on the opposite end of the spectrum, a negative action has been committed. In the poem, it is elucidated that no one man, or group of men, should be allowed to ability to judge others because there is no true standard to measure by. The only deserving judgement, as conveyed in the poem, is that passed by God as our creator.


1. What is achieved in beginning and ending the first above stanza with rhetorical questions?

2. In the context of this stanza, what is the meaning of the word "vulgar?" Why does Browning choose this particular adjective to describe the masses?

3. How does the idea of judgement by society in this poem contrast with the idea of societal judgement demonstrated by Bronte in Jane Eyre?

4. Why does Browning place the word "work" in quotation marks? Is there an intended purpose for including such punctuation?

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Modified 5 February 2009